Wild Geese: Clare man with his head in France’s postal cloud
Clem Garvey says there are great opportunities for Irish graduates in France – if they have the language
“The only downside of my job is the travel. Even in this era of video-conferencing, you do have to see people and develop face-to-face relationships. I do about 100 flights a year. I’ve done three already this week and it’s only Tuesday night.”
It’s no walk in the park for Garvey, but it does have its positives, too. “We are rather well appreciated in the French stock exchange as we produce a 25 per cent Ebita.”
Since graduating from University College Dublin with a commerce degree, Garvey has held a number of management roles, including president of NRG France, chief executive of Ricoh France and managing director of French printing company Gestetner, all of which have come with some compromises.
“My son was born the same week I was made managing director. I picked up my wife and son from the hospital and then returned to work for meetings. It was not one of my proudest moments.”
Garvey started his career with KPMG where he qualified as a chartered accountant. He spent several years there before moving to London to take up a position with insurance broker Willis Faber.
“I worked with the Willis Company in corporate finance. It was a very exciting period in London especially in the field of mergers and acquisitions.”
Several years later, looking for change, he applied for a role with Gestetner, working first in London, then at the Nashuatec subsidiary in Belgium where he was involved with restructuring the company, and finally in France.
“Having restructured the Benelux operations I got the opportunity to go to France. This was a dream come true for me as I am a confirmed Francophile . . . I became general manager of operations there, a role totally divorced from finance. I was in charge of sales, marketing and operations. It was quite a challenge as I went from counting the results to driving them.”
About the same time Garvey went to France, Ricoh purchased the Nashuatec/ Rex-Rotary/Gestetner (NRG) group but allowed it to operate autonomously in order to increase its market share in digital printing devices. In 1999 he became managing director of NRG France. It was about this time that he realised he needed to change his lifestyle.
“I hadn’t practised any sport since my time in London. I decided that becoming MD should allow me to better manage my diary and to create time for sport.” Garvey returned to karate which he had practised in London, before taking up running. He has since completed 17 marathons.
Over seven years, NRG almost doubled in size to become a €300 million company. In 2007, Garvey was appointed Ricoh France chief executive with a mandate to carry out the merger with NRG. The following year he became chairman of the merged company.
“Bringing together two organisations which had been competing aggressively for decades was a huge challenge, all the more so in the French social context which requires consultation with workers’ councils and health and safety committees for each and every change within an organisation. By the end of the 2007 financial year, we had built a single entity comprising 3,200 people and posted a turnover of €600 million.”
Then in 2009, he got a call inviting him to look at the job of as chief operating officer for Neopost. “Leaving Ricoh was difficult as I had put so much of my life into the company. Love is measurable only in the hour of separation and I only realised how much the company had become a part of me when I walked away.”
Garvey says the move was a huge step as he went from being the boss of a subsidiary to being the boss of bosses of subsidiaries.
“I arrived at Neopost in the middle of the financial crisis. It was traumatic and I had to hit the ground running. I was trying to establish my credibility and bring the company forward at the same time.”
But he has no regrets.“We have invested heavily in new technologies and we advise customers on communications strategies that combine email, physical mail and social media.”
The company also provides track and trace software to postal firms worldwide including the Royal Mail, Australia Post, Singapore Post, Parcelforce Worldwide and Chronopost, with two-thirds of the group’s €1.1 billion turnover reporting to Garvey.
He says there are great opportunities for Irish graduates in France – so long as they have the language. “So many people and companies think they can do business in France without the language. If you don’t speak French, please don’t come here.”